Anticipating the Blitz Spirit in First World War Propaganda Film: Evidence in the Imperial War Museum Archive



In any extended propaganda campaign, and especially in the propaganda of a nation engaged in a major war, the fearful and hate-inducing figure of the enemy who is being fought against needs to be balanced by a more positive representation of what is being fought for. Where British propaganda of the twentieth century is concerned, however, a widespread perception has been that such balance has been achieved across the two wars, rather than within either of them. Thus, the dominant motif of First World War propaganda is often recalled in terms of a simple appeal to patriotism, motivated largely by a concentration on the vileness of the enemy. In the words of Professor Philip Taylor:

Images of the bloated ‘Prussian Ogre’, proudly sporting his pickelhaube, the ‘Beastly Hun’ with his sabre-belt barely surrounding his enormous girth, busily crucifying soldiers, violating women, mutilating babies, desecrating and looting churches, are deeply implanted in the twentieth century’s gallery of popular images. Evoked repeatedly by Allied propagandists during the Great War, the British stereotype of the Hun and the French image of the ‘Boche’ provided them with the essential focus they needed to launch their moral offensive against the enemy, at home and abroad.1


Simple Appeal Video Archive Strategic Bombing Female Workforce Moral Offensive 
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  1. Details of all the films mentioned in this article, and of the other 1100 or so titles making up the Imperial War Museum’s archive of First World War film, may be found either in the pages of the published catalogue — Roger Smither (ed.), Imperial War Museum Film Catalogue Volume One: The First World War Archive (Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 1994) — or through the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Collections Online’ website at Scholar
  2. 1.
    Philip M. Taylor, Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Era (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), p. 180.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Sidney Rogerson, Propaganda in the Next War (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1938), pp. 164–5.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Sir Arthur Elton, quoted in Elizabeth Sussex, The Rise and Fall of British Documentary: The Story of the Film Movement Founded by John Grierson (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 119–20.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico, 1992), p. 181. In the following discussion of ‘Deep England’ symbolism, this chapter also draws heavily on Calder’s earlier book, The People’s War: Britain, 1939–45 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969).Google Scholar

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© Roger Smither 2011

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